Canon Powershot S500 Review
The Powershot S500 is the first Digital ELPH to employ a 5-megapixel imager, the same
high-resolution imager as that used in Canon's top of the line Powershot G5 model. There are also other new
features such as a Print/Share button, which allows users to quickly print/transfer
images. Like all the other new Canon cameras, it's PictBridge compatible so you can make
photo prints without a computer on many of today's newest photo printers. The S500 sports
a stylish matte finish Cerabrite front that's scratch resistant, durable and classy. The
majority of the S500's improvements are internal. The S500's high-resolution five
megapixel imager produces images up to 2592 x 1944 pixels in size. That's more than enough
resolution to create gorgeous 13 x 19 inch prints on photo printers like the Canon i9100.
A high-resolution camera has to process a lot of image data and process it quickly so Canon developed a highly integrated DIGIC processor. It not only processes image data quickly it also controls just about every other operation of the digital camera as well. Integrating all of these functions into one processor makes it fast, accurate and also extends the battery life. With this robust processor comes robust auto focus, white balance and exposure systems. And it allows the S500 to record full motion video in QVGA resolution up to 3 minutes in length with sound at 320x240 and up to 30 seconds with sound at 640x480. Not the equal of a video camcorder but three minutes is considerably longer than the 30-second movies created by many other digicams.
The S500 is ready to go in about two seconds from pressing the Power button. This is pretty amazing considering that it must extend the lens and boot itself up. It's even faster when powering down and after the lens is retracted into the body it's protected by an automatic cover. In the Large/Fine image size the performance is impressive with a shot to shot time of just under three seconds in single frame mode. The timing is the same even when using the flash. In the Continuous Shooting mode there are two settings: Standard and High-Speed. In Standard it shoots approx. 1.5 frames a second. In High-Speed is shoots approx. 2.2 frames a second. This all depends on the shooting conditions and settings. Switching from record to playback brings up the image in about two seconds and it's about one second when going from image to image. The total shutter lag (time from pressing shutter to actually capturing) varies from less than a second to about a second, this is a little better than average.
The camera's auto focus system is as robust as its image processing and is enhanced by a focus assist lamp that insures proper focus lock even in total darkness. The auto focus employs a very accurate 9-point AF system that does its job quickly, even when the subject is not in the center of the frame. If the LCD is on you'll see which of the nine AF points were used for the focus lock. The Macro mode has excellent coverage from six inches to about two and a half feet and controls the flash perfectly even at the closest range.
The S500 features a high-resolution 1.5" color LCD with a non-reflective coating that makes it quite visible in bright light as well as resistant to nose smears. The image color and contrast on this LCD is most impressive, when reviewing pictures there's no doubt that you recorded what you wanted. The back light for the LCD is supplied by energy-efficient white LEDs. Small cameras require small batteries - the S500 is powered by a proprietary rechargeable Li-ion pack that's good for about 200 shots when using the color LCD. With the LCD off you can more than double that number. The new DIGIC processor has improved the overall battery life considerably. We still recommend the purchase of a second battery pack because the camera cannot be powered by any other type of battery. Canon includes a very compact and portable AC charger for the battery that takes a little over two hours to charge a fully depleted pack. The charger plugs directly into an 100-240V AC outlet and has fold-away prongs, no cord is required.
Images are stored on CompactFlash Type I cards and Canon includes an 32MB card which is alright for a starter card but you'll want to get a larger one. I'd suggest at least a 256MB size card which isn't too expensive nowadays or a 512MB size card if you're going on a vacation. The USB port lets you easily transfer pictures and movies to your computer. With the included Auto Download program and today's modern operating systems like Windows XP or Me all you do is plug it in. There are drivers included for older OS like Windows 98 SE and pre-OS 9 Macs. Canon includes the handy Remote Capture software that lets you operate the camera while tethered to the computer. Also included is a full suite of software that includes printing and panorama stitching applications as well.
Overall the image quality of the S500 is excellent and there are a number of Photo Effects that can be applied such as Vivid color, Neutral, Low Sharpening, Sepia and B&W. If you like shooting night pictures then you'll appreciate the "Long Shutter" option that gives you access to 1 to 15 second shutter speeds. To insure the best possible image, Noise Reduction is automatically applied when the shutter speed is 1.3 second or longer. The ISO sensitivity is adjustable from 50, 100, 200, 400 or the camera can control it Automatically. In addition to an excellent automatic white balance there are presets for sunny, cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent, fluorescent H (daylight temperature) and a one-push custom setting for use with a white or grey card.
The 3x zoom lens exhibits moderate barrel distortion in full wide angle and a little pincushioning at full telephoto but no more than most zoom lenses and better than some. The zoom mechanism is smooth and fairly quiet and the control is conveniently located around the shutter button. The optical viewfinder although a bit small has a good eyepoint and covers about 90% of the captured image, it lacks dioptric adjustment.
The S500 is a perfect choice for anyone who needs or wants a very compact and highly durable camera. Canon was the first to make these small but fully functional digicams and continues to improve them with each new generation. The S500 makes an excellent camera for tourist, buisness users, and extreme sports enthusiasts. If your vacation is at the beach or in the tropics you might want to consider purchasing the underwater case, it's rated for 130 feet depths. The u/w case also allows the camera to be used safely in any weather condition. Because the S500 fits in almost any size pocket, it will always be ready to capture those all-important shots.
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